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“I’m proud I can help support them”: Meet Nanay Elena who cooks up a Filipino feast to provide for her family

Nanay Elena food in Philippines

Our Philippines Island Hopping trip is filled with sheer beauty and wonder every step of the way: endless beaches, special island stays, and delicious food. But for International Women’s Day this year, we want to focus on one such food experience: hosted by Nanay Elena, a sweet local woman who has made cooking her living.

If you’re craving grandma’s cooking then this is the place for you, and we have had the pleasure of interviewing Nanay Elena to find out why she does what she does, and why she loves it so much. So tuck in, because this is about as wholesome as it gets!

Hey Nanay Elena, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and this lunch experience?

“Hello, Contiki! I’m Nanay Elena, I’m 64 and I live near Puerto Princesa with my husband and six of my children, but I have 12 kids in total, and 11 grandkids! We’re a very big family, and I cook for travellers, to be able to help provide for them.”

“When you come to visit me, I will make you lunch with lots of local Filipino dishes and flavours that you can all enjoy as a family of your own.”

Nanay Elena food in Philippines

Image source:Contiki

When did you start opening up your home to tourists? Why?

“I started doing this around 2018, and then the pandemic happened in 2019 which slowed things down. But it has been good so far and people come from all over to have lunch here and support us. I lost my animals and crops in a typhoon a few years ago, so now I have been rebuilding, and this has been to support myself.”

“I also do this so that I can help support my children and my family. I especially support my granddaughters and their studies. One of them is taking political science, and she aims to be a lawyer one day; and the other is doing nursing studies and wants to be a doctor. I’m very proud of them, and I’m proud that I can help support them.”

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What can travellers expect from your meal?

“It’s a big meal that I make; lots and lots of dishes for everyone to try and enjoy together. I wake up early and I make everything myself – sometimes my sister helps me, but usually it’s just me. I raise my own chickens, and some of the food comes from my own resources, and the rest is local.”

“I cook in my kitchen, which is quite small, but the food ends up great. My spring rolls are actually famous in the village! Once the food is ready, we all get together at this big table and eat and talk and it’s nice for me to get to know people and to share my story, and for everyone to share theirs.” 

Nanay Elena food in Philippines

Image source:Contiki

You do this for your family, is it fair to say family is important to you?

“Yes, no matter what I always say, family comes first. Family ties are very strong for most Filipinos, it’s tradition to stay close with your family, and I am very grateful for mine. I chose this job for my family, and I’m very thankful for everyone who comes to support us and eat my food.”

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